Classes were plentiful, innovative and usually full to capacity in the “old days” at Hot Yoga Capitol Hill studio on H Street NE. The “old days” I’m referring to are those before COVID shut down all non-essential businesses in March 2020.
“We were doing great. We had summer camps scheduled, a teacher training going, a retreat on the books and even offered classes at no charge for a group of students with disabilities,” said Lara Atella, director.
Then the shutdown occurred. Hot Yoga transitioned to virtual classes within 10 days. “Classes were free the first couple of months even while we continued to pay our rent and pay all instructors full salary,” said Atella. “We didn’t know or expect the shutdown to last as long as it did. I had saved money for a slow month, but I never dreamed we would be making nothing – no income. Some members who kept their membership active kept us going.”
Once Hot Yoga began charging for online classes Atella asked for whatever anyone could pay. “If it was nothing that was fine,” she said. Eventually she held steady at $14 or the purchase of an unlimited monthly package. “Even now we negotiate with people who can’t pay full price.”
The landlord reduced rent during the summer which helped Hot Yoga to survive, said Atella. “I was still losing money every month.”
Hot Yoga did not qualify for the PPP (payroll protection program) funds that were being given out to small businesses because Atella said her instructors were not full time employees. Businesses like Hot Yoga fell through the cracks. “I am the only full time employee. We only received a very small local grant.”
Atella also had to pay back all the prepayment for the retreat and the summer camps.
Atella, who lives on the Hill, has refinanced her home twice. She also took out a personal loan. She has depleted her savings and her kids’ college funds. A researcher before becoming a studio owner and yoga teacher full-time, she is now back working at a research position even though her heart is in the studio and on the mat. “I do have a family to support,” she says.
Innovative Efforts to Stay Afloat
Atella continued to give back to the community even as Hot Yoga was dropping deeper into debt. She extended anyone’s packages who wanted to keep it and return after the shutdown.
When fitness facilities finally got to re-open the DC government wouldn’t allow hot yoga facilities to open until three month later. Once Hot Yoga did reopen, business was beginning to bounce back. Then the worst happened. DC regressed into an indoor mask mandate in August.
“Literally the day DC issued the directive, people cancelled memberships and stopped coming. I think is was a combination of fear and not wanting to wear a mask in a hot yoga class.”
Once again Atella became creative. “We brought the temperature down in the room a couple of degrees. It seems to help because the students who stayed said it’s ok doing yoga with a mask on. They can change their masks during classes, they stay six feet apart and we continuously clean the studio.”
Ways to Support the Studio
Hot Yoga Capitol Hill and other small, community-service businesses on the Hill need support from the community in order to stay afloat. “We may not as a community be able to see each other but we need to support each other in any way we can.”
“Consider buying memberships early to help us through this challenging time. I hear a lot ‘I am going to take a little break and discontinue my membership.’ I don’t think people realize, when they cancel their membership for three months, how hard it is for us. We have no umbrella organization that has deeper pockets or sponsors us.”
Atella added special packages to entice members that are more than half off the regular price. You can also donate to Hot Yoga in exchange for classes or a membership which can begin when it is convenient for the purchaser. Another way to help is to prepay for a yoga teacher training. All donations help keep the studio open and pay instructors.
Staying Safe at Hot Yoga
Exercising at home is certainly convenient. But it’s not necessarily fun or motivating. Now there is a choice. At Hot Yoga a purchase of private sessions (no mask required) is available. Too hot? No problem. Atella said the heat in the studio can be adjusted for your comfort.
The studio is currently open every day. It offers classes in hot yoga, hot Pilates, Barre and HIIT, yoga sculpt, Pilates/Yoga fusion and hot vinyasa flow. “It continues to function well because of the commitment of our teachers, work study participants and our dedicated community.”
Despite her full time job in research, Atella continues to manage the studio, teach classes and continues to offer a free, on-line class for people who have developed long-term effects from contracting COVID. “I started doing this weekly class in June 2020 with LaShone Wilson. We have attendees from all over the world -England, Japan, France and even Guam,” she said. “I record classes and send them to people when they ask for them. I’ve gotten so much inspiration from listening to students’ experiences.”
The studio is currently open daily. Please check the website for the schedule.
Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and journalist who has been writing her column for more than 20 years. She focuses on holistic and non-mainstream ways to stay healthy, get well and connect with your true self. Please email her with questions or column suggestions at: [email protected].